Larry Allen, Hall of Fame lineman for the Cowboys, dies at 52 (2024)

Larry Allen, a bruising offensive lineman who protected Troy Aikman and helped plow the way for running back Emmitt Smith during a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys, died June 2 at 52.

His death was announced in a statement by the team, which said he died while “vacationing in Mexico with his family” but did not share additional details.

Mr. Allen, a second-round draft choice who played 12 of his 14 NFL seasons in Dallas, was among the league’s most dominant and reliable offensive linemen, combining speed and athleticism while pulverizing opponents with his 6-foot-3, 335-pound frame.

Rotating between the guard and tackle positions depending on the team’s needs, he made 11 Pro Bowls, was a first-team all-pro for six straight years and served as a linchpin of the offense when the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1996, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

The game was a highlight of his career, although Mr. Allen — who referred to himself as “Quiet Larry” — didn’t make much of a fuss when it was over. Unlike superstar teammates such as Deion Sanders, he seldom spoke to reporters and was usually reticent when he did. When he was inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2011, he delivered an acceptance speech that lasted all of 13 seconds.

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“I didn’t talk much,” he said two years later, reflecting on his career, “but I didn’t have to. I used my helmet.”

During his rookie season in 1994, Mr. Allen stunned the announcing crew on “Monday Night Football” when he chased down New Orleans Saints linebacker Darion Conner from behind, making a tackle to prevent a pick-6 following an interception by Aikman. “This guy’s got a rocket booster strapped to his back!” broadcaster Dan Dierdorf proclaimed, calling Mr. Allen’s chase-down tackle “one of the most impressive athletic feats I have ever seen.”

Mr. Allen had balletic footwork as well as raw strength, and effectively turned the weight room into his second home following an embarrassing performance against Green Bay early in his career. After Packers defensive end Reggie White knocked him flat on his back during a game, Mr. Allen vowed to become “the strongest man in the NFL,” a title he seemed to have firmly secured by 2001, when he bench pressed 700 pounds — more than the combined playing weights of Cowboys legends Aikman, Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin, another future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

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His time in the gym helped him bowl over opposing linemen or, more often, push them so far out of the play that they disappeared from view on TV.

“You might see that in high school and college, but you don’t see it too often at this level,” Aikman told the Dallas Morning News in 1998. Mr. Allen, he added, “might be the best player in the NFL. I don’t know that anyone dominates their position the way he does.”

Mr. Allen finished his playing career in San Francisco, completing two seasons as a 49er before retiring in 2008, when he signed a one-day contract with Dallas so that he could technically go out a Cowboy. He was elected a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2013 and was named to the NFL’s all-time top-100 list in 2019, after previously being chosen for the all-decade teams of the 1990s and 2000s.

“The National Football League is filled with gifted athletes, but only a rare few have combined the size, brute strength, speed and agility of Larry Allen,” Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. “What he could do as an offensive lineman often defied logic and comprehension.”

“He could literally beat the will out of his opponents, with many quitting midgame or not dressing at all rather than face him, but that was only on the field,” Porter added. “Off it, he was a quiet, gentle giant.”

Larry Christopher Allen Jr. was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 27, 1971. As he told it, he turned to football as a way to stay out of trouble while growing up in Compton, where his family lived in poverty.

At age 9 or 10, he was stabbed 12 times — four in the head, eight in the shoulder — while trying to stick up for his younger brother in a fight. His father left the family the next year, and he was raised mainly by his mother, who succeeded in persuading Mr. Allen not to join a gang and took him to Northern California to get away from shootings. Sports, especially football, proved cathartic.

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“I hit as hard as I can for as long as I can,” he later told the Los Angeles Times, discussing his playing style on the gridiron. “I think maybe I’m taking out all my frustrations about my life.”

Mr. Allen spent a year each at four different high schools. He never graduated, but after receiving his GED he enrolled at Butte College, a junior college in Oroville, Calif., where he played football for two years before going to Sonoma State University, a Division II school outside San Francisco.

When NFL scouts saw him his junior year and said he had a chance to go pro, Mr. Allen turned his full attention to training for the pros. “Had to,” he said. “What were the options?”

Mr. Allen started 10 games as a rookie in Dallas, a season that ended when the Cowboys lost to the 49ers in the NFC championship game, falling short of their third straight title. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl the next year, playing right guard and blocking for Smith, the league leader in rushing, who set a franchise single-season record with 1,773 yards on the ground.

In retirement, Mr. Allen lived in Danville, Calif., with his wife, the former Janelle Trimboli. They had three children, Jayla, Loriana and Larry III, who played on the offensive line at Harvard. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

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With his success in football, Mr. Allen said that he hoped to set an example for young people in Compton and other underserved communities. “The kids see all the dope dealers with all the money, all the gold, the cars, the women,” he told Newsday in 1996, before the Super Bowl. “Most of the fathers are not there, so that’s all they have to look up to. Once I get enough money, I want to do something and make the kids see that there’s another way to do things, that they don’t have to do drugs, that there’s a better way.”

Larry Allen, Hall of Fame lineman for the Cowboys, dies at 52 (2024)
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